Why Do I Like Running: Pt. 5
Saturday, November 05, 2011
Chapter 5: The First (and Only?) Half Marathon
With the realization that I couldn't finish a 10-mile training run - in the noonday sun, without water, and without paying heed to proper training pace - I had all but decided to skip the '88 La Jolla half marathon and just swallow the entry fee. On the night before the race, without telling anyone, including my girlfriend (who would later become my wife), I made up my mind to at least attend the start, just to mingle with the crowd and get a feel for the event. I arrived at the Del Mar Racetrack starting area, all dressed to run. I got caught up in the excitement and figured out I could at least make the start, put in a few miles as the course circled the racetrack area and then I'd drop out and jog back to my car before the course took us away southward into Del Mar proper.
I thought it was a great idea and I set off in the dim light, and instead of racing, I just cruised with the crowd. I wound up getting caught up in the run. Rather than dropping out, I continued with the throng, away from the racetrack and away from my car, not totally sure what I was going to do if I got half way and had to call it quits. I’d have to walk 6-7 miles back to my car. But the running was like a drug that kept pulling me along and for the first time in my life I wasn't feeling wiped out when I hit the 5 mile mark.
Around 5.5 miles, the course reaches the foot of a steep, long climb from the shoreline to the high bluffs of the Torrey Pines State Reserve. I started up the hill and made it about half a mile, and with legs burning and my lungs seriously sucking wind, I slowed to a walk where the road makes a hairpin turn and keeps going up – how much farther I didn’t yet know. I continued walking along the route since there were plenty of other doing the same thing. I was brooding a bit, because back in those days, I was of the silly opinion that once you walked, the run was over. I felt I had failed to complete the half marathon legitimately. But it was just easier to keep going in the same direction rather than think about turning around to go all the way back to my car.
After a quarter of a mile and maybe 5 minutes of walking, the grade leveled out and I was feeling pretty fresh again. So I started a slow jog. That turned into a run and before I knew it I was back up to speed. There’s an equally steep downgrade on the other side of Torrey Pines, near the UCSD campus, that leads down to La Jolla Shores, and by the time I was there I began to care not just about finishing the race but finishing more quickly than the others in my running group, none of whom I’d seen yet. I would push myself through the final miles of the race, including the unexpected hill climb from La Jolla Shores up to the village area where the finish was.
I crossed the line in around 1 hour and 36 minutes (I think...I'm can't recall the exact time.) I had no context for whether this was good or not, but I hid the fact that I had walked for a bit at the halfway point. I thought that would sully my result. I think of that now and how foolish a notion that was. What I’d done was essentially run two 10km repeats with a 5 minute recovery interval in between. I’d love to be able to duplicate that kind of feat today and would find no shame in having taken a walk break to accomplish it. But back then, and for years after, it would be my dirty little secret.
I did wind up beating the other guys, and finishing that half marathon would be the pinnacle of my running career for many years. I wasn't inclined to do it again, though, as far as I was concerned, it was a "bucket list" kind of thing that once done needed be done again. Later that year I ran a few more 5Ks, but that running phase faded. I would still maintain my fitness levels and manage my cholesterol for a few more years, until I was in my early 30s. Running was just not the main fixture after 1988. In 1992, the Navy transferred me from San Diego to the DC area, and it was during my two and half years there that, for whatever reason, I began to drift away from those high fitness levels.
Next: The 30s